The Mission of Individuals Vs. The Mission of the Church
I love baseball. Baseball represents everything that is right with the world. Hot dogs, nachos, a huge fudge sundae served in an upside down baseball helmet, warm summer nights, memories of playing catch in the backyard with dad...
Baseball is the best.
One of my favorite things about baseball is the fact that all of these players are incredibly skilled in their various positions--while all unified in the pursuit of a singular goal: winning the game. But it is important to note that the goal of the team is different than the goal of the individuals on the team. The goal of the team is to win. But the goal of the individual pitcher, for example, is to get batters out through good pitching.
Now, I’m obviously not just writing this blog so I can talk about all the ways baseball is awesome. Though I could talk about baseball all day long, I want to spend the remainder of this blog talking about the church.
The church is like a baseball team with folks serving in a variety of different positions. God has called some to do this primarily by pastoring a local church. He’s called some to do this primarily by being missionaries in the Middle East. He’s called some to do this primarily by being evangelists at their offices. He’s called some to do this primarily by being godly mothers and fathers, raising their kids in the Lord.
But, like a baseball team, though it is made up of many parts, the church has one (and only one) mission: to make disciples of all nations. This is the singular mission given to the church in Matthew 28, and this mission is accomplished by going to the lost, practicing the sacraments, and teaching the Bible (Matt 28:16-20). Though the mission of the corporate church is singular, the mission of the individual Christians who make up the corporate church takes several forms.
We, as individuals, have to be careful that we do not confuse what God is calling each of us to do with what he is calling our entire church to do. You may be called to work at a particular ministry, but that doesn’t mean your entire church is. You may be passionate about a particular social issue, but that doesn’t mean your entire church is. You may feel called to serve in a particular way, but that doesn’t mean the church is.
Pitchers are very passionate about pitching. Designated hitters are very passionate about hitting. Catchers are passionate about throwing guys out who are trying to steal second base. But the baseball team as a whole has only one goal, and that is to win. Imagine if a pitcher started trying to get everyone to spend all their time to practice pitching like he does. The team would suffer. What if the catcher tried to get everyone to stop batting practice so they could work on throwing the ball from home plate to second base? The team would suffer. What if a designated hitter tried to get everyone to only practice hitting? The team would suffer.
These scenarios seem silly, but it happens in churches all the time; the singular mission of the church is often hijacked by individual callings and pursuits.
Formal vs. Informal Ministry
I was once a member of a church that, I kid you not, had about 200 extra “ministries” that it was trying to support. It was so burdensome to try to watch over people in so many outside ministries that it was actually distracting from the main mission of the church. Why? Because if the church is going to formally promote a ministry, then the elders have to formally watch over and supervise that ministry. And a Jack of all trades is a master of none.
But perhaps there is a better way...
One of the things that is unique about our philosophy of ministry at Parkway is that most ministry done by individuals at our church is done informally. Don’t get me wrong, we obviously have some formal ministries (The Worship Service, Theological Equipping Class, Community Groups, Youth, Preschool, etc.). However, people are making disciples all throughout the week without needing an official title, a classroom, announcements from the stage, or a page on our website. We have groups of women who get together to disciple each other every week. We don’t have a formal “women’s ministry,” yet women are serving and being served by one another. We have a group of guys that get together over a campfire and talk about their testimonies. We don’t have a “men’s ministry,” yet men are serving and being served by one another. We have people leading Bible studies at their offices, moms setting up play-dates to encourage other moms, people ministering to their Muslim and Hindu neighbors, and several other things happening because Christians don’t need a title to be Christians where God has already placed them.
In fact, I actually think that having too many formal ministries fails to teach people how to own their Christianity in their day-to-day lives. For example, if a church has an “evangelism day,” where everyone goes and knocks on doors twice a year, the members of that church have not learned how to do evangelism! Rather, they’ve learned to evangelize twice a year. Evangelism should be happening 24/7 as we seek to befriend our lost neighbors, co-workers, etc. If someone is only able to teach the Bible when you give them the materials, and give them a classroom, and give them a title in a church bulletin, they may not actually have the gift of teaching. Those who are called to teach will find a way to teach the Bible, with or without your help.
God’s desire is for his church to focus on the thing he has asked the church to focus on: making disciples through going, baptizing, and teaching. We know this because it is the great commission and the great commission is given to the church as a whole. At Parkway, that means our first and primary mission is to make disciples through the means of the local church, and specifically that we should be making disciples of our own people.
Does this mean we should ignore other ministries or individual pursuits? By no means!
We have several people involved in ministries outside the church that we love, pray for, and encourage. One guy trains pastors in Haiti. Another guy ministers to those who come out of a Hindu background. Some help serve in a local food pantry. Others help serve in pregnancy advocacy centers, etc. Our church contains a beautiful mosaic of people doing ministry where they are called.
Parkway is doing one thing as a team (making disciples), while encouraging our members to own their Christian walk and to pursue the things they feel called to pursue.
You never need a title, or a nametag, or an official ministry to make disciples where you are passionate. Passionate pitchers don’t make everyone else care as much about pitching as they do. They let the team be the team while they work on improving their curveball.
This is one of the best resources I’ve read on this topic. It is worth your time: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/churches-cant-everything/